Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.07.23 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.07.23

Anna Zago, Pompeii Commentum in Artis Donati partem tertiam. Vol. 1: Introduzione, testo critico e traduzione. Vol. 2: Note di commento, appendice e indici. Bibliotheca Weidmanniana, 6. Collectanea Grammatica Latina, 15.   Hildesheim; Zurich:  Weidmann, 2017.  Pp. cxlix, 420.  ISBN 9783615004298.  €136.00.  

Reviewed by Wolfgang D. C. de Melo, University of Oxford (

The grammarian Pompeius is one of my all-time favourite authors. This North African scholar—I am using the term loosely—composed a commentary on Donatus' ars maior sometime between the end of the fourth and the beginning of the seventh century, and in all likelihood in the fifth century. Donatus' fame as a grammarian throughout the Middle Ages is somewhat accidental: his ars minor, an abridged version of the ars maior that Pompeius comments on, came to be the go-to manual for aspiring scholars partly because he was the teacher of St Jerome, the great Bible translator. Neither one of Donatus' two artes is particularly challenging. Nonetheless, Pompeius feels the need to explain Donatus as if he were fiendishly difficult to understand, which indicates that he was teaching a rather basic class; in this day and age, one hesitates to call it 'a dunces' class', as Lindsay (1916: 35) had done.1 The transmitted text bears all the hallmarks of the elementary Vorlesungsmitschriften that were for sale in my undergraduate days.

This is precisely where Pompeius' charm stems from. When reading his work, we feel transported back in time into the midst of a late- antique, provincial classroom; and we cannot help but feel a certain nostalgia for our own school days and the remarkably similar teaching methods employed back then. In language classes at university I learned that cum simply means 'when' and that classical cum-clauses stand in the indicative if they are intended as purely temporal, but that they are in the subjunctive if a further meaning is to be extracted from the context, whether that meaning is causal or concessive; one and the same word cannot, in and by itself, mean 'because' and 'even though'. When doing teacher training at school, on the other hand, we were asked to present the pupils with a list of wildly divergent translations for cum, and they were neatly labelled as cum causale, cum concessivum, and so on; for each of these 'meanings' the children had to memorize whether it takes the indicative or the subjunctive. When I attempted to explain things in a more sensible way, I was quickly reprimanded by the forthright Latin teacher in charge, who insisted that a deeper understanding was irrelevant so long as the children could attach a label to a usage.

Now I have the satisfaction of seeing that this school method stands in a veritable tradition that goes back to Pompeius or even earlier. The very introduction to the third part of Pompeius' commentary states explicitly that the treatise can help us to criticize language use with the right terminology. Throughout his work, Pompeius dogmatically introduces the various uirtutes et uitia orationis with black-and-white definitions that ignore the grey areas that exist between them, and in so doing he shows clearly that he is content with naming things rather than actually understanding them. There is precious little deeper knowledge of the language or its history. For instance, for Pompeius there are two types of faulty speech, the barbarismus affecting a single word and the soloecismus affecting a construction. These are to be shunned. However, the exact same things can occur in poetry for metrical reasons; then we call them metaplasmus and schema, respectively, and all of a sudden they are good simply because they are used by established poets. Had Pompeius had a deeper understanding, he could still have reprimanded a form columa instead of columna as a mispronunciation, but he would have understood that poetic tetuli instead of tuli is actually a genuine archaism, not a form created to fill a line.

The pleasure I derive from Pompeius may be somewhat perverse; he is a genuinely second-rate grammarian. However, Anna Zago has now provided us with an absolutely first-rate edition of and commentary to this second-rater, and while I accept that not everyone appreciates Pompeius in the way I do, this edition and commentary is highly recommended for everyone interested in ancient grammarians. The text will replace the old edition by Keil (GLK 5.283-312), and the commentary is detailed, rich, and full of insights.

Already in antiquity, the third book of Donatus' ars maior was somewhat separate from the first two. The first two dealt with grammar proper and topics such as the parts of speech, while the third was stylistic in nature and discussed the uirtutes et uitia orationis. The third book of the ars maior thus also had a separate transmission history, and the same can be said for the third part of Pompeius' commentary. For this reason, Zago is fully justified in making her two-volume work exclusively about Pompeius' third part, which is entirely self-contained.

The structure of Zago's work is straightforward and convincing. After a brief preface, the first volume contains an ample bibliography comprising both ancient texts and modern treatises, followed by a very helpful introduction. This introduction outlines what we know of Pompeius and provides a detailed analysis of the manuscripts. Zago's stemma (p. CXXIV) diverges from that by Holtz (1971: 772) in several respects, and Zago's analysis is clearly superior. What follows is the text itself, with new chapter numbers, but also with references to the page numbers in Keil, and most importantly, with an excellent apparatus. Lindemann based his editio princeps on a single manuscript; Keil utilized a larger selection; but Zago has the merit of going through whatever is available. Her exemplary apparatus falls into three parts: one that refers to all the ancient texts that Pompeius quotes, for instance Virgil; one that outlines the indirect tradition; and the apparatus proper that is based on the direct manuscript tradition. After the text and apparatus we get a neat Italian translation that renders Pompeius in a style appropriate to his œuvre. The second volume then comprises the commentary, a short appendix of variant readings, and various useful indexes. The only structural criticism I have is a criticism that applies to the entire series, not just to Zago's work: it would have been very helpful to have the translation on facing pages rather than following the Latin text.

In Zago's commentary, there are very few things deserving discussion that are not discussed. She could have said a little more about Pompeius' language use. She does mention the construction infinitive + habeo, the source of the Romance future, exhibiting a range of functions, from obligation to plain future; she comments on puta introducing examples, and on other traces of orality; and she indicates the vagueness of dixit, the subject of which could be Donatus or indeed Servius, whose commentary Pompeius utilized. However, one could also mention the indirect questions in the indicative or the fact that, unlike in classical Latin, the genitive almost always follows causā or uice. I would also have liked to see a more detailed discussion of Pompeius' examples in cases where they cannot be traced back to a specific author. Are forms like mamor instead of marmor (134) simply made up, or are these mispronunciations that had some actual currency?

But these are very minor points. Altogether, then, Zago's edition and commentary are a wonderful piece of work that deserves praise and recognition.

I shall end this review with miscellaneous comments illustrating why Pompeius deserves our attention. In 20, he talks about a speech fault called iotacismus; he defines it as the fault that happens when we have a word in -tio and pronounce it as such, with three sounds, rather than correctly as -tsio. This shows nicely that the palatalization and assibilation of -t- and -d- has already happened. In 22, the fault called labdacismus is introduced; it takes place when the clear and dark allophones of l are confused, a fault common with North Africans (who apparently only had the velarized l). In 29, we are introduced to the fault of soloecismus, a fault which receives a twofold etymology, from the town Soloi and from σώου λόγου αἰκισμός 'corruption of a correct word'. Neither etymology goes back to Pompeius, but this second, incorrect one is lovely. In 53, obscenities are rebuked, but the term is defined so widely that even a euphemistic mention of going to the toilet is frowned upon; presumably, anyone who aspires to be a good writer has to refrain from certain subject matters entirely.

Elsewhere, we can see Pompeius struggling with the texts he read. In 65, he misunderstands Virgil's aeripedem 'bronze-footed' (Aen. 6.802) as 'air-footed' and analyses it as a contraction of the non-existent aëripedem. In 67, he comes to the conclusion that the dative olli, a form already archaic in Ennius, is an artful innovation. And in 74, he misunderstands Terence (Eun. 17), who has quae nunc condonabitur 'which things he shall now be spared'; Pompeius believes that the meaning is 'which things shall now be spared', with quae as a nominative rather than an accusative, and argues that therefore the verb form should really have been condonabuntur. Pompeius is not averse to criticizing the classics: in 54, Virgil is accused of the fault of pleonasmus, and in 57, Cicero is said to have expressed himself praepostere. Despite this, however, I have to agree with Zago that the description of a parenthesis 'insertion' in 96 as ridiculus is probably a gloss; and with a heavy heart I also have to agree with her that the description of Statius in 85 as demens is probably also a gloss.


1.   W. M. Lindsay (1916), 'The Latin grammarians of the Empire', in AJPh 37: 31-41.
2.   L. Holtz (1971), 'Tradition et diffusion de l'œuvre grammaticale de Pompée, commentateur de Donat', in RPh 97: 48-83.

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